In a self-taught designer who has even taken part in Paris Fashion Week, NIKI CHARALAMBOUS meets a knitwear specialist who says it takes a village to succeed

With an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship, local fashion designer Maria Aristidou believes that her brand covers all bases, distinguished by a style that fuses luxury and simplicity. “My collections and designs range from one-of-a-kind couture items to ready-to-wear fashion pieces, from every day to glamorous, and from elegant to trendy.”

When Aristidou speaks of her exclusive collections and inspirational fashion pieces, it is easy to see why this fashion designer, who was born and raised in Limassol and relocated to Nicosia – where her fashion studio is based – has made a positive impression in the world’s style and fashion capital.

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Maria Aristidou

Maria has also made a name for herself with designs focusing primarily on knitwear, and earning a reputation for excellence and iconic craftsmanship. “If you want to stand out in this highly competitive industry, you have to create everything from the beginning, including your own fabrics,” Aristidou said.

Her talent for fashion developed through her teenage years and was inspired by members of her family, including her stylish grandfather, who had his own personal tailor and footwear designer, and her mother’s incessant reading of a local women’s fashion magazines. “My uncle, who owned a clothing factory, noticed my sketches and advised me to focus on developing my fashion skills,” she recalled.

However, it was only after Aristidou completed her studies in business management and economics with a master’s in career consulting that she would embark on a full-time career as a fashion designer in Cyprus.

“While studying abroad, I accumulated a vast collection of international fashion magazines, which served as a reference to my self-taught education in fashion and design,” Aristidou told the Cyprus Mail. “My first creations were for my friends. Watching my designs come to life was a magical experience that launched a whole new creative chapter.”

Her fashion career took another positive turn after her return to Cyprus in 1997, when she placed second in a fashion competition open to young Cypriot designers. “I was the only self-taught designer who presented three distinct fashion looks for men and women.”

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While working on her master’s degree in the UK, she worked as a sales assistant and stylist for Irish American designer Paul Costelloe, one of the most established names in British and Irish fashion. Her time there allowed her to develop as a designer, stimulating her creative juices, inspiring fashion collections, and ultimately leading to recognition in both New York and Paris.

Aristidou said she then met a contact in the fashion industry through the social networking site Myspace, where she was exhibiting her work at the time, who invited her to showcase her work at a charity event in New York. “It was a watershed moment in my career, allowing me to become part of the global fashion world,” she said.

Aristidou got to show her work in Paris at various exhibitions and later at Paris Fashion Week after acquiring an agent who was impressed with her vision and approach to women’s and men’s design. “There is an intense pre-selection screening process involved, and designers must present their collections to a deciding committee on numerous occasions, who will either accept or reject the work.”

In 2017, and after six painstaking months of meticulous work, Aristidou’s collection finally made it to the Paris Fashion Week runway, opening doors into the world of fashion glitz and glamour, gaining international recognition as the only designer to showcase a full knitwear collection, leading a French journalist to call her “the fairy of knitwear”.

Aristidou particularly enjoys working with knitted fabrics due to their softness, warmth and stretch. “Knitwear does not imply making bulky sweaters or scarves. Knitted fabrics can be used for a variety of items such as swimwear, eveningwear, and even wedding gowns.”

Her success is largely due to her involvement in the process from the beginning. All of her fabrics are designed in-house, combining cutting-edge textile design techniques with more traditional hand embroidery.

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“Attention to detail, research and development, and meticulous care in design and production are paramount, and serve as the foundation for my design process and my collections,” she said.

Even in Cyprus, she said, there is lots of potential and talent, but to stand out, it is important to be unique and innovative. “It is also critical to build a positive network with key people and members of the press who will help you along the way.”

Aristidou believes it takes a village to succeed and attributes hers to her team. “It is critical to understand that a brand is not a one-man or one-woman show. Always be grateful to those around you, especially the photographers who bridge the gap between the public and the fashion narrative.”

Despite her success, Aristidou considers herself a “struggling designer” with little global influence. However, if her reputation is anything to go by, Aristidou is a ‘fairy’ in her own right, inspiring future Cypriot designers to spread their wings and fly.,